Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Friday, March 18, 2016

Forgotten Battle on the Eastern Front: Lake Naroch, 18 March 1916

As the French situation at Verdun was becoming more and more severe, General Joffre appealed to the other Allies for a diversionary action someplace else in order to compel the Germans to withdraw part of their forces from the offensive.

Nicholas II acceded to the French request, choosing the Lake Naroch area in White Russia (Belarus) because there 350,000 Russians (parts of two army groups) faced just 75,000 Germans under General Eichhorn.

Russian Depiction of the Fighting at Lake Naroch
(The Germans Seem to be Retreating Here)

After a two-day artillery barrage, however, the advance was annihilated by the well-entrenched German defenders. The maximum Russian advance in just a scattering of places was merely a few hundred yards. In the month following, the Germans regained all the lost territory.  A secondary assault to the north against Riga under the command of Aleksei Kuropatkin, the defeated general of the Battle of Mukden in the Russo-Japanese War, failed similarly. With its tactical failure and the 100,000 casualties suffered, the main result of the campaign was its blow to Russian morale, already on the decline after the great retreat of 1915. It had no impact on the assault at Verdun.


  1. "It was an affair that summed up all that was most wring with the [Russian] army."
    -Norman Stone

  2. More:
    "It was altogether an episode that suggests commanders had lost such wits as they still possessed." (228)
    "Of all the bombardments in the First World War, this was - with strong competition - the most futile." (229)
    "Sirelius, to the north, would not help [Baluyev's attack] at all, relapsing into cabbalistic utterance, and losing only one percent of his force - through frostbite." (230)

  3. Siegfried Wagner wrote a curious song about this battle a few years later, in 1919.
    Here's a recording, along with English translations of pretty gory lyrics:

  4. There seems to be a reaction against the purely Western Front emphasis of years earlier. There is much greater interest in both the Eastern and Italian Fronts, indeed in Austria-Hungary in general. I'd like to see a review of a biography of Field Marshal Boreavich, if there is a new one.

  5. The continued willingness of the Russians to mount offenses at the urging of their allies wasn't credited to them. The Russians were often accused of slacking in their duty to the alliance.

    1. It was decided by the Russians at chantilly in December 1915 that if anyone ally is attacked then every other must open an offensive Naroch came back to bite them on the arse badly